Invasion Of The Giant Squid

Sounds like science fiction but our local channel waters have had some king-sized squid move in. Fishermen have been catching squid about 4 to 6 feet long and weighing 25 to 70 pounds. They are not big enough to sink a ship, but you would not want one to attach itself to you. I spoke recently with local businessman and fisherman Leigh “Lou” Christman (he and his wife, Karen, own “Arbor Services”), who just returned from a trip out of Oxnard at Captain Hook’s Sportfishing on the boat “Island Spirit.” Lou, who caught six, said, “The boat started out at 5:30 pm and went out about five miles. It took about forty minutes until we stopped over a deep underwater canyon about six hundred feet deep. At dusk, the squid started to bite at the two-to-four-hundred-foot depths. As the night wore on, they even came up to the surface. It was a full boat of anglers and lots of action. When the squid take the jig, the pole immediately bends over in a full arc and the fight begins. It is an especially tough battle at first because they are jet propelled.” The squid have a water siphon system that propels them to speeds up to 15 mph.

The species of squid now being caught is the Humboldt Giant Squid named because they seem to follow the Humboldt Current in the Pacific. It has not been in our waters since the 1930s. These species can get up to 13 feet long, and can weigh over 100 pounds; during the day, they stay at 1,000-foot depths and rise to the 600-foot and shallower levels during the night. Like all squid, they have two long tentacles and eight arms. There are literally thousands of dime-sized sucker discs on the arms, each ringed with teeth-like claws within each “suction cup” to grasp prey or a fisherman’s arm. Lou said extending an arm, “See this scratch? A tentacle wrapped around me and did this. It definitely was a creepy feeling and I would not want to be in the water with them. When we get them on deck, the squid will squirt out a three-foot-long jet of brown-colored ink the thickness of a garden hose. The deck was deep with the brown, gooey ink – it looked like Worchester sauce an inch deep covering the deck.” The fisherman were especially wary of the central “beak” which is actually the mouth and looks like a parrot’s beak. The hard hooked pair of beaks projects out from the flesh about two inches and opens like a pliers or garden clippers and rapidly clamps together to slice whatever is in its path. Fingers beware.

Eight-legged Cannibals

I learned from Mark Vogels, the manager at Capt. Hook’s Sportfishing, that these squid are cannibalistic. “Once we arrive back and clean the squid,” Mark explains, “we find pieces of tentacles inside the stomachs from other squid it had eaten. They are aggressive, voracious eaters. In fact, when some of the fishers bring the squid in on their line, another one will attach itself in an attack upon the catch – we sometimes can just gaff it and get an extra one.”

The squid family includes over 200 species, from the monstrous to the minute. The really large ones are found in the extraordinary depths of 3,000 feet and have been found to grow to 60 feet (I am reminded of the book and movie, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”). The sperm whale is the chief predator of giant squid and “beaks” have been found in their bellies.

The Humboldt squid are more typical in Mexican waters off the Baja coast and Sea of Cortez. What brings them here is anyone’s guess. It could be they are following the food chain or changing ocean currents. They have large eyes for seeing at great depths where light does not penetrate; they survive easily at these oxygen-depleted abysses. These squid are said to be the “James Dean” of the sea in that they live fast and die young. They only live 12 to 18 months. They gather and spawn in large numbers, their bodies intertwining, resulting in the females carpeting the ocean floor with translucent eggs by the thousands

Lou brought one entire giant squid home to show his daughter, Autumn, age six, who then shared it with her classmates at Notre Dame School. The spectacle was a big hit, I am told. Later, Lou was willing to trade a large calamari steak for some of my venison sausage. The steak had a fishy smell that was solved by slicing the squid thinly, pounding it with a cleat mallet like abalone, and soaking it in milk. Then, I dipped it in egg, breadcrumbs, and into a skillet with hot oil. Served with a little lemon it was delicious and tasted very much like abalone.

To participate in this chance-of-a-life-time fishing event, you can contact Captain Hook’s Sportfishing in Oxnard (805-382-6233 or www.islandspiritsportfishing.com.)